*Warning: I’m talking about one of my biggest pet peeves- this may get ranty*
Hi all! So I’m gonna start by laying all my cards on the table. In my last post I admitted to committing the cardinal reading sin of just assuming a character was gay. While this is a somewhat popular theory around the book, I didn’t bother to back up my point, cos I know that while I was reading this was something that I just felt rather than based on any textual logic. Admittedly we all do this from time to time- and as long as we accept that these are fanfic-y assumptions we have made and not actual facts, we can all go along with our lives quite swimmingly.
The problem, for me, arises when people present what is actually a very flimsy opinion as fact. I cannot tell you how many times someone has said “well I just think so-and-so was secretly in love with so-and-so” and when I ask for evidence of this they just say “read between the lines!”
No, just no. That is not how analysis works. I’m gonna come right out and say this: there is no such thing as reading between the lines. I mean if you step back and think about it, what is actually in the blank space between the lines, except maybe a few scrawled notes we may have made? (yes I’m guilty of writing in books- it’s not sacrilege if you’ve ever been an English Lit student!) As self-referential as we may like to be, it is hardly good academic practice to say: “well I think so-and-so was in love with so-and-so- because that’s what I wrote in my notes!” Good analysis actually requires going back to the source material and showing that this is the case.
Remember what your primary school teacher said about how, when you construct an argument, “you can say anything as long as you can back it up”. Well- we need to go back to that- with an emphasis on that last part! Because at some point, when you make a claim, someone will say “prove it”.
More than that, we need to remember that sometimes the evidence is weighted in the other direction and an interpretation can be wrong. Because sometimes, someone can show evidence to the contrary that fits the story better. And also, to be absolutely clear, the absence of evidence is not evidence! (No matter how hard someone tries to convince me that, say, Mr Rochester is a zombie, I’m guessing that I will remain unconvinced). It’s obviously fine to have parallel convictions about what a book means, but sometimes opinions contradict each other and- this may come as a shock to some people- only one person is right.
And that’s a good thing- that’s the whole purpose of debate! We are actually trying to reach some sort of conclusion! When someone says: “I don’t agree with that interpretation, where’s the evidence for that?” it’s ridiculous to just throw up your hands and say “read between the lines!” Because that is not an argument. And if you say that, don’t expect me to take you seriously.
Okay- phew- glad to get that off my chest! What do you think? Are you open to more vague interpretations or are you more finicky about these things like me? And do you have any reading pet peeves that make your blood boil?